Scientists argue that the discovery of an extremely rare goblin shark is really a game

This story has been updated.

Controversy rages within the small but passionate ichthyologist (The Study of Fish). Depending on who you talk to, either a rare deep-sea shark washed up on the shores of the Greek island of Anafi in 2020, the first ever recorded sighting of a goblin shark in the Mediterranean; Or some scientists faked the entire discovery using a plastic toy and tricked the world with some tricks that are no more advanced than a simple prank on social media.

Fighting stems from Paper published in the journal Mediterranean marine sciences last May, which details a specimen of goblin sharks found by a citizen scientist while walking along a Greek beach. The paper, written by three marine biologists from three different universities (two in Greece and one in Scotland), included a photo taken by a citizen scientist depicting an unusually small, blue-gray and well-preserved goblin shark. It was an amazing discovery – the kindness that scientists pray for may fall into their arms during the course of their careers.

And for some, it was just too good to be true. The photo set off alarm bells for some marine scientists as soon as it was published.

“It looks like a very popular game,” Vicki Vasquez, a shark expert at the Pacific Shark Research Center in Monterey, California, told The Daily Beast. In the ensuing notch, investigators pointed out on Twitter that the shark in the photo was pregnant Supernatural resemblance to a goblin shark model made by Italian toy maker DeAgostini, right down to the seam on the side of the mouth.

Marine biologists around the world have been pushed to pick sides—some vehemently skeptical that the goblin fish specimen is the real deal, others still asserting that the specimen could Be Honest. Authors stand by their work, going so far as to write Additional defense of the paper, published last weekwhich strongly suggests that they published a sample game in a peer-reviewed journal and presented it as scientific evidence.

(The authors did not respond to interview requests. Hours after this story was first published, The Daily Beast was informed that another researcher’s submission for comment had been declined due to the original authors announcing that they had formally retracted their paper. The original paper is still available online. It has not The journal responds to requests for comment.)

It’s hard to believe in one study—indeed, one study filming—It has stirred up a lot of sniping in the past year among scholars, a community often portrayed as level-headed, sometimes to the point of dullness. But the stakes of a new battle are high, in part because of the nature of the goblin shark itself, and in part because the age of misinformation has pushed researchers into a more combative state to remove misinformation as quickly as possible, before it can. He has a chance to solidify.

Rare as gold

Goblin sharks, common name for Mitsukurina Ostuni, a reclusive and somewhat mysterious species. They make their home deep in the ocean, at depths of up to 1,300 meters (4,300 feet), where light is scarce and pressure is strong enough to snap human bones. There, they feed mostly on fish, squid, and crustaceans, which they snatch with their sharp, retractable jaws.

Fewer than fifty goblin sharks have been scientifically documented, although they occasionally appear as bycatch in commercial fishing nets. Its range includes the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans, as well as the Gulf of Mexico. But scientists really have no idea where they mated or how long they live.

The new study notes that a photo of a goblin shark taken on August 25, 2020, “found by a native on Klisidi Beach on Anafi Island”, has been attributed to Giannis Papadakis. The paper did not specify who Papadakis was, or if he was the first to find the specimen on the beach. (As mentioned, the authors did not respond to The Daily Beast’s questions.)

A picture of a goblin shark has been posted Mediterranean marine sciences May 2022.

Giannis Papadakis

However, finding a true goblin shark in the Mediterranean would indicate a significant range extension for this benthic behemoth and could provide tantalizing clues as to where it breeds. That is, if the find is real.

Jurgen Pollersbock has doubts.

An independent shark researcher based in Germany, Pollerspöck has witnessed a large number of deceased sharks over the course of his career. He came across the paper on a goblin shark on Anafi Island last July, and added the article to an Internet search on sharks, rays, and chimeras. Database Helps with supervision. He more or less forgot about it until two months later, when he finally had time to sit down and read it.

Something about this discovery struck Polarspock as… fishy. “After reading the article in detail, I had my doubts about the record,” he told The Daily Beast in an email.

The head of a goblin shark on display at a museum in Australia.

Diane Bray/Museum Victoria

Pollerspöck, along with three other shark experts, decided to write in the journal detailing their concerns. Mediterranean marine sciences published their own comments last week.

In these comments, the researchers point out that the shark in question appears to have only four gill slits, even though goblin sharks have five. Its jaw was quite prominent in a hunting position, rather than relaxed, though it had no visible teeth. It had a strangely tapering nose, unlike most goblin sharks, with a stiff, straight snout.

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But the biggest red flag they found was that the image lacked any scaling scale. The authors only vaguely listed the sample as “Do not exceed[ing] It has a total length of 80 cm (2.5 ft), making it the smallest goblin shark on record. Goblin sharks regularly grow to a length of 2.5 m (8.5 ft).

“Fishing in the Mediterranean has a long tradition,” said Pollersbock. “It would be a surprise if this huge animal remained undiscovered until today.”

The original authors did not relent in the face of Pollerspöck and his co-author’s comments — instead, they doubled down on it, writing refute (also published in the same journal), which defended the findings. The authors provided new clarifications aimed at addressing some of the issues, including a more accurate measurement of a length of 17–20 cm (just over half a foot), and confirmation that the specimen was unusually small because it was embryonic. They chalked up the odd nose and teeth to individual variation, blaming the extended jaw on stress before death. They insisted that the gill slits were all there if you zoom in.

Fishing in the Mediterranean has a long tradition. It would be surprising if this huge animal remained undiscovered until today.

Jurgen Pollersbock, Germany

“The fact that they had a rebuttal is what really hooked me,” Vasquez said. “I thought it would be undone very quickly.” In most cases of academic fraud or mistaken identity, the journal withdraws the questionable paper soon after well-qualified experts have raised concerns. That’s what happened in a famous case of fish fraud in the late 1990s, when someone tried to pass a Bad photo taken of coelacanth as a new species. In this case, however, Mediterranean marine sciences Let the paper stand.

Others also criticized the stabbing, especially since it was an embryonic sample. “I don’t think that argument holds much water,” Chip Cotton, a marine biologist at SUNY Kobleskill in New York who specializes in deep-sea sharks, told The Daily Beast. He explained that it is rare for an embryonic shark to wash up on beaches intact. They are more likely to be eaten by hungry marine scavengers, especially in the deep sea. Cotton suspects that such a tender morsel would surely be devoured before it came anywhere near the shoreline. “The possibilities are just imaginary,” he told The Daily Beast.

When Cotton first saw the photo, he suspected it might be a cat shark with a fake nose snapped onto its face. However, he has since considered that the sample may have been a game developed with some color editing. Similarly, Vasquez believes the specimen in the photo is too hard to be a true deep-sea shark, whose skulls remain solid but whose bodies and fins tend to become flabby and flaccid on land.

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play defense

Not everyone is convinced that sharks are plastic. “When I first looked at it, I thought it was strange. But the more I looked at it, the more I thought it was an actual specimen,” Glenn Parsons, a marine biologist at the University of Mississippi who helped describe First documentation a goblin shark in the Gulf of Mexico two decades ago, according to The Daily Beast. He cites the smooth white edge on the shark’s fin, which is characteristic of late embryos in many species of shark.

However, if the shark was a model, these whiteheads could be the result of plastic degradation and sun bleaching, according to a report by gizmodo. However, it is difficult to distinguish from a single average quality image. “You can only prove it if you have it on your hands,” Parsons told The Daily Beast.

Perhaps the biggest concern among scientists is not the fact that the photo itself might be faked, but the consequences downstream. Fake domain extension statements may seem harmless, but they can have serious consequences. “Science can definitely be taken away,” biogeographer Alexa Fredstone of the University of California, Santa Cruz, told The Daily Beast. This can affect everything from government funding to environmental models to how (or whether) conservation policy is enacted.

When I first looked at it, I thought it was weird. But the more I looked at it, the more I thought it was a real specimen.

Glen Parsons, University of Mississippi

Friedstone is also concerned that the dust could scare away researchers from the data collected. She said thousands of species have been successfully documented or rediscovered thanks to the efforts of citizen scientists, while peer-reviewed admixtures involving such data remain rare. “I really hope it doesn’t stop people from engaging in citizen science.”

But even if the shark was a fake (and if the bill was actually withdrawn, that seems more likely), it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a case of intentional fraud. Vasquez and Cotton think it’s possible the authors were simply excited about what could have been a frankly remarkable discovery, and didn’t do their due diligence in the follow-up. Or, they said, perhaps they, as early-career scholars, felt tremendous pressure to publish something In an academic journal, like the great white who must keep moving to survive. Pollerspook itself assumes good intentions – if careless science – on the part of the authors of the original paper until proven otherwise.

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